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A Split-Up Game Plan

Wednesday, November 1, 2006
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When it comes to corporate split-ups, few HR executives have had the experience of Jean Halloran, Agilent Technologies' senior vice president of human resources.

In her years, first with Hewlett-Packard, and since, with split-off Agilent, Halloran has seen both sides of corporate split-ups.

When Halloran was a key member of the new company formed when Agilent split from HP, she says the effort was guided by a very carefully defined game plan.

The overarching guidelines of the Agilent high-tech test and measurement business were:

* Be the new company; don't be distracted by where you've been.

* Take the very best employees you can find and fewer than you think.

* Don't let the business of the business falter in any way because you are splitting in two.

In other words: Customers always comes first.

"We had something like a 48-hour or 72-hour plan to get to every major Agilent customer as soon as the split-up announcement was made," Halloran says. "The external customers who bring in the revenue have got to be kept isolated and untouched from what, frankly, is an internal project."

If you are top HR executive at the sending company -- as Halloran was not long ago in a just-completed $2.6 billion divestiture of Agilent's semiconductor-products business -- the key thing is to help ensure that certain priority jobs are filled fast so the new company can be thinking about what it has to do, she says. Those jobs include the CFO, the chief legal counsel, head of IT and, yes, the top HR position.

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Finally, on whatever side of a split-up an HR executive finds herself or himself, you have to be prepared for surprises -- what Halloran calls "emotional lightning rods."

In the HP-Agilent split-up, for example, some employees at both entities were up in arms over who was going to be able to use the HP recreational sites in various locations.

"Employees wanted to know, 'Oh my goodness, are we going to be allowed to use these sites or not?', says Halloran. "It was a huge deal for the employees who raised the issue. To resolve the matter, we needed to do a lot of caring and responsive communication, fast."

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